Stephen Koppekin's Blog

Humor in the Workplace: What Managers Should Know

When in a work environment, it can be easy to rely on humor to create and maintain working relationships with your employees. While certain environments will permit humor more than others, it’s critical that a company’s leadership team has a firm handle on what is and what is not acceptable.

Most managers will agree: A diverse workplace can make it difficult to support an environment that doesn’t set boundaries for the type of appropriate humor. What one employee may label as a ‘mood lightening’ joke could spell tension for another team member across the room. Further, certain types of humor can cause others to feel uncomfortable. Sarcasm may work well for your personal life, but depending on how well others know and read you, it can cause miscommunications that could affect your authority and employees’ perceptions of you.

While the intent may not be malicious, all managers must be aware of how their words and actions affect the team. More than other employees, managers act as the model for the rest of the staff. Typically, how and when a manager uses humor during the workplace will dictate how his or her subordinates follow suit.

Humor: A Social Tool

Workplace humor is not something to avoid by any means. A general rule of thumb would be: don’t be afraid, be aware. There’s no need to feel like you are walking on eggshells around others as long as your attitude remains respectful and inclusive.

Jokes are a necessary social tool to navigate the climate of the office. It creates comfortability and trust between employees and their superiors. The nuance that needs to be adapted is to become more aware of the style of jokes and who is hearing them. Having a sense of caution and awareness can contribute to the overall atmosphere of the work environment.

This is especially pertinent to office leaders. Many may assume that managers take a more conservative approach, however, that’s just not the case. Christopher LeGrow, and associate professor of psychology at Marshall University, studied workplace humor and found jokes regarding weight, age, sexual orientation race and religion are some of the most commonly used; thus, one must avoid jokes or comments on these subjects.

It becomes easy to find a commonality between employees by not liking someone else in the work environment. However, these jokes or comments are not only inappropriate: They’re usually illegal.

As a leader, adapting a sense of humor can showcase a more humanist side to you–when done correctly. It’s also a trait that can be carried over into an promotion or profession. All leaders should keep in mind that like so many actions, the employees you manage observe and mimic you on many levels.

Employers Beware! NLRB Issues New Standards for Joint Employers

Within the past month, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has initiated a shift in its philosophy on what constitutes a joint employer relationship. Until now, the NLRB’s standard for joint-employer status was for an entity to exert actual direct control over essential employment conditions of another entity’s employees, but in Browning-Ferris Industries of California v. NLRB, the organization indicated that an entity could be a joint employer on the basis of indirect and unexercised control. Since joint employers share joint liability and obligations regarding union representation, collective bargaining, and striking or picketing, this decision has considerable implications.

The case came before the NLRB after a union filed an election petition in order to represent the employees of the staffing services agency Leadpoint who worked at a recycling center operated by Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI). Since BFI staffed the center with both Leadpoint and BFI employees, the union named BFI as a joint employer, despite the fact that BFI did not exercise direct control over Leadpoint employees. The NLRB administrative case judge who first heard the case found that BFI was not a joint employer of the recycling center’s Leadpoint employees; however, in the subsequent appeal ruling, the NLRB rewrote its joint employer standard and ruled that BFI was a joint employer on the grounds of its indirect and unexercised control over the Leadpoint employees.

BFI appealed the ruling to the DC Circuit and argued before a panel of three judges–Judge Patricia A. Millet, Judge Robert L. Wilkins, and Judge A. Raymond Randolph–who will issue a final ruling on the case. During oral arguments, the judges directed questions to both representatives of BFI and the NLRB: Judge Millet, for example, questioned whether or not BFI’s instructions to employees that were “launder[ed]” through Leadpoint represented indirect control. She also pressed the NLRB’s attorney on how the organization would apply its new joint-employer standard to collective bargaining. The panel is expected to deliver a final decision after a few months.

There are significant implications to the NLRB’s expanded joint employer standard. First and foremost, if and when unions seek to organize a group of jointly-employed employees, the joint employer is party to the union election process, and these joint employers will also be required included in the secret ballot election and, in the event the union wins, will be part of the collective bargaining process. Joint employers are also subject to pickets, boycotts, or other activities that would otherwise be considered unlawful secondary boycotts.

A Brief History of the Department of Labor

America’s first step toward creating the Department of Labor as we know it today took place in 1884 with the passage of Bureau of Labor Act. That law created the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to gather data on labor and employment in the country; BLS still exists today inside the umbrella of the Labor Department, but at the time of its formation, it was under the Department of the Interior. BLS evolved into an independent agency but was quickly subsumed by the new Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903.

However, on March 4, 1913–his last day in office–President William Howard Taft signed a bill into law that established the Department of Labor as a new, independent cabinet agency. This was the culmination of nearly 50 years of lobbying for the creation of such an agency by labor organizations and unions to represent their interests at the federal level.

The first Secretary of the Labor Department, William B. Wilson, was a former congressman as well as a founder and former leader of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). He took an active role in preventing and mediating labor disputes and, eventually, managed the War Labor Administration when the U.S. entered World War I. Following Wilson’s time at the helm, the department took more of a hands-off approach to labor arbitration and instead focused on other affairs, like immigration and child labor.

One of the most well-known leaders of the Labor Department took office in 1933: Frances Perkins, the first female cabinet secretary in US history. Under Perkins’ leadership, the Labor Department took steps to alleviate suffering during the Great Depression with the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program that created jobs in the countryside for unemployed young men in cities, as well as through the enactment of the landmark Social Security Act and other initiatives. She voluntarily resigned shortly after FDR’s death in 1945.

In the days since then, the Labor Department has grown into an important agency with powers allowing them to protect workers’ rights, improve working conditions, provide job training and skills programs, and much, much more. In fact, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez once said, “Boiled down to its essence, the Department of Labor is the department of opportunity.”

City Council Bans Employers from Inquiring About Prior Pay

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed into law on Monday, January 23, 2017 a bill that would make it an unlawful employment practice for employers to ask job applicants about prior pay.

This came after the Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed an ordinance, a law set forth by a governmental authority like a municipality, on December 8, 2016 that amends the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance to prohibit all Philadelphia employers from asking prospective employees about their wage history.

This brings to light the following questions: What does this ordinance do? What’s the significance of this ordinance? What should employers do?

To get the answers to these questions, check out Stephen Koppekin’s blog here.

3 Reasons Why Unionization Can Be Helpful to an Employer

Happiness.  Growth.  Fulfillment.  These three words describe what every employee is looking for in a job.  With the enactment of the NLRA in 1935, laborers have been properly represented and vouched for by unions in a way that keeps their best interest in mind.  Employers around the country sometimes feel cornered into working with labor unions, as workers have clearly stood up for their rights since the mid-nineteenth century.  However, there are three powerful reasons I want to show you as to why employers employers may benefit from unionization.

Click here to learn more.

Unions From the NFL to Screen Actor’s Guild and More

Stephen Koppekin Consulting provides cost-effective and efficient consulting solutions in the areas of labor and employment. With his expert ability to negotiate and his solution-based mindset, Stephen Koppekin shares his vast knowledge on his consulting website.

No matter the profession, unions are an integral part of the American workforce. Many professions have them, ranging from the star-studded NFL to the everyday steelworker in the industrial sector. In his blog, Stephen Koppekin provides a peek into five prominent labor unions around the country to give you an idea of what labor unions look like in action. Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list, because there are hundreds of other labor unions from a variety of other professions.

Announcing the New King of the Valley Jesters: Stephen Koppekin

The Valley Jesters has appointed me as the new King (Chairman of the Board).  I have appointed Harvey Turell as the Crown Prince, the second in command.  The Valley Jesters, composed of seventy-two members at any given time, is made up of men who enjoy philanthropy, dining together, entertainment, golf outings, and more.  One of this organization’s primary concerns is raising funds for five charities, with the main charity being Junior Blind of America.  Learn more about the installation of the new board, what board members do, and what committees make up this philanthropic and socially powerful organization here.

The History of Labor Day

In the midst of the Industrial Revolution, Americans worked twelve-hour days for seven days a week to make a decent living. The working conditions weren’t safe, as everyone worked in unsafe conditions, weren’t given proper breaks, and the areas weren’t very sanitary. The working life for an American didn’t always consist of forty-hour workweeks and two day weekends, but Labor Day marks the celebrations of overcoming those challenges.  

Read the history about how Labor Day came into existence in the United States here.

Stephen Koppekin Consulting provides cost-effective and efficient consulting solutions in the areas of labor and employment. With his expert ability to negotiate and his solution-based mindset, Stephen Koppekin shares his vast knowledge on his consulting website.

Before The FLSA, Labor Conditions Were Like This

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. It establishes a minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers. For the past 80 years, this law has protected employees from labor abuse like poor wages, long hours and child labor.

This was a landmark law for American workplaces. But imagine what the typical workplace looked like before the FLSA was signed into law. Read all about it on Stephen’s blog here.

Stephen Koppekin has specialized in resolving and negotiating employment issues for over forty years, using his vast knowledge of comparative economics, law, and dispute resolution to support him.  Stephen enjoys writing about the latest labor topics on his websites.